Monday, February 23, 2009

A Charmed Life

Four weeks ago tonight I was preparing to have surgery the next morning. I was optimistic all would be well, but also aware I might not come home. Or, that I might come home facing chemo, maybe losing my hair, maybe having years of treatment stretching out in front of me with no end in sight, maybe looking at the beginning of the end.

When I was first told I had a tumor, Kim sent me a Bible verse that had been a comfort to her during her cancer treatment. It was, "I am the Lord that healeth thee." from Exodus 15:26. That night I was looking that up online and ran across another verse that I loved from Psalm 50:15, "And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me." I had that in my mind as they put me under in the operating room.

A couple of people have asked me about faith/religion/spirituality since all of this happened. I rarely discuss my beliefs, because I view it as very personal. I also doubt anyone shares my views so I don't try to explain them because it makes people uncomfortable. Suffice it to say I believe God is involved in my daily life and I believe in the power of prayer. I also believe energy never dissipates and that includes the life energy in each of us. I believe the way we think affects the way we live. I believe in miracles. I believe there is a reason for everything. I believe each of us is the teacher and the student. I believe we keep getting the lessons until we handle them well regardless of our role.

Faith has been part of my life since I was a teenager, I just choose to keep this part of my life largely private. When this happened, I knew if I wrote about it on the blog there would be times when my belief system would be evident because it was a traumatic event. And I knew there would be questions. This is my clumsy attempt to answer those questions, while keeping my beliefs as private as possible.

I find comfort in Bible verses, as well as quotes from great thinkers throughout history and of different faiths. I am not, nor do I ever want to be seen as, a model of any sort of faith practice. There are three things I do every day. I pray. I meditate. I write. Those three things keep me grounded.

I feel as if I have received a miracle of healing. All the medical people in my world now tell me they thought it was cancer and were surprised to learn it was benign. Thank goodness they didn't tell me that in advance.

The night before surgery neither Greg nor I slept much at all. He had lain down on the couch and I sat in a chair talking to him for a long time. Finally I went upstairs to bed and dozed off and on for a couple of hours, but never really went to sleep. I couldn't help but think that it could be the last night I ever spent in my home.

Greg said the hospital bed set up in the dining room was a real marker for him. He knew that we would come home and that would either be a place of just recovery or it would be a place where I was recovering enough to start chemo or it would be a place that was the beginning of the end that would lead to him sitting in a room somewhere increasing my morphine until I passed. When we came home and it was just a temporary place to recuperate it was a relief.

I'm so incredibly grateful and so relieved. I was very optimistic, but I was also realistic. The vast majority of the time, surgery goes very smoothly, but things can also go wrong and one has to be prepared for that.

A friend called the other day just to visit and she didn't know about the surgery. When I was given the news I just didn't have the energy to call people. I wrote on the blog and left it up to fate of who read it. I just couldn't tell the story over and over and keep myself positive and I needed to be positive. With a good dose of realism. But positive.

She asked what I did in the nearly three weeks from the time I found out about the tumor until I had surgery. I said, "I got my affairs in order." She laughed and said, "of course you did. That's what you would do." I assumed that's what everyone would do given the situation, but she laughed and told me I was always practical. I suppose I am to some degree, but I didn't know what else to do. And that was something I could do that was proactive. And there was very little I could do in those days that had any effect on the diagnosis.

It's hard to believe it has been four weeks. In some ways it seems like it was a year ago and in others it seems like it was just last week. I remain incredibly grateful, knowing that I got the news hundreds - maybe thousands - of people are praying for every day.

Physically, I'm doing very well. Mentally and emotionally, I'm still adjusting. I think it's part of the reason I can't sleep these days, even with the pain pills. Every day still feels like I'm walking on a tight rope. I'm trying to juggle all these different feelings and emotions, which demand processing, while dealing with the world that allows no time for such introspection. As is so often the case, everyone understands the physical, but it's difficult for them to understand how delicate but demanding the rest of it is.

I remember a few months before my brother Jim died I was sitting on his front porch with him and he remarked his death was not far off. He then went on to say, "No one wants to talk about it, but it's coming. And it's not going to be long." I said, "Well, I can talk about it." And we did. And I'm so glad I had that time with him. It was poignant and bittersweet and an honor to be included in his life in that way. For the first time I understood what a gift it was to glimpse this part of life.

When I was facing my own mortality I quickly saw what he meant. I've written here many times over the last five years about my desire to live fully, which I summed up during this time by saying, "I'm not afraid to die, but I'm very afraid to not live." However, when people are thinking - even though they may not be saying it - that you really could die, they are very uncomfortable with that conversation.

From my perspective, nothing had changed regarding my feelings on the matter. Ultimately, we're all dying. It's just that sometimes we are faced with a situation where we have a sense it could be more eminent than we had thought the day before. As I've written here before, I've always known death is very close and it's very easy to cross over. But I quickly learned what Jim had said was true. No one wants to have that conversation - not even in the abstract - not even when you have reason to believe this isn't your time.

I am so fortunate to be looking at normalcy, being able to go back to living life not worrying about death. I'm sure in time this will all fade into the background and I'll think no more about it than I did six months ago or six years ago. When I came out of recovery and saw Greg I asked him if the tumor was gone. He said "yes, and it was not cancer," although we didn't know exactly what it was then. Later when he repeated that information I mumbled to him, "charmed life." I often say I lead a charmed life in response to any number of pleasant experiences. A charmed life, indeed, is what I've been given, and I want to remain in a grateful frame of mind for such blessings.
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Patsy Terrell said...
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Anonymous said...

You are eloquent and insightful as usual. By a year from now, you may have stopped thinking of this event every hour or so, but it will probably remain close to the surface. Perhaps it should, as a big-picture reality-check to recall on those days when life's petty problems are getting you down. You dodged a big, big bullet. That will always be important to remember.

It will be interesting to see how it colors your novel. You are a different person now, and I expect that will be reflected in your writing.

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Patsy Terrell said...
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Patsy Terrell said...

Sigerson... Thanks for your kind words. I do feel incredibly grateful.